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Supercell CEO对话IVP投资者,分享公司高速发展的经验

发布时间:2020-02-28 08:57:50 Tags:,

Supercell CEO对话IVP投资者,分享公司高速发展的经验

来源: IVP’s Hypergrowth Podcast 译者:Vivian Xue

欢迎来到本期IVP“Hyper-Growth”播客。在本系列节目中,IVP投资者将对话发展最快的公司的CEO,探讨在高速增长状态下公司建设的细节。

在我们的第一期节目中,IVP投资者Para Saljoughian与Supercell创始人兼首席执行官IIkka Paananen进行了交谈,谈论了公司的成功、首席执行官的职责、公司独特的去中心化管理结构,以及强有力的全球战略。

Ilkka Paananen,手游公司Supercell的创始人兼首席执行官,进入游戏行业纯属意外。他放弃了许多同学都会选择的管理咨询工作,在一家游戏开发公司做低薪酬的临时工。公司团队由游戏开发者和创意者组成,他们决定让IIkka担任CEO,这样他们就可以专注于游戏制作。几年后,IIkka成功把公司卖给了电子游戏发行商Digital Chocolate,并在那里工作了6年。之后不久,IIkka与人合作创立了位于芬兰赫尔辛基的游戏公司Supercell,如今Supercell的全球活跃玩家达到1亿,公司市值也突破了100亿美元。

Supercell创始团队成员具备广泛的游戏开发经验,涵盖多个平台和商业模式。Supercell最出名的游戏是《部落冲突》和《皇室战争》,前者6年内收入超过60亿,后者的收入也超过了20亿。该公司的成功部分源于其去中心化组织结构,这种结构赋予了各游戏团队[他们自称为“细胞(cell)”]权力,消除了阻碍创新的官僚主义。

在本期对话中,Parsa和IIkka讨论了Supercell超速发展过程中的关键经验。本期对话还包含了IIkka对Supercell未来5-10年发展的预测,以及对当今游戏开发者的建议。

supercell(from develop-online)

supercell(from develop-online)

1. 小团队,大发展

减少管理层级,简化管理流程,使团队运作更加快速高效。

“若我们把传统的金字塔结构倒过来,结果会怎样?”

IIkka和他的创始团队推崇一种“零官僚主义”政策。为什么?团队从过去的工作经历中认识到,游戏公司进入快速发展阶段后,往往面临规模过大、流程繁琐的问题,这些将拖慢公司发展。因此,关键在于创立一种文化,追求速度优化并使各个游戏团队保持自主性。IIkka和他的团队认为,游戏开发团队最接近产品和客户,因此应当享有决策权。在这样的环境下工作,不仅创意者们倍感鼓舞,决策的质量和执行效率也更高了。《海岛奇兵》和《皇室战争》的开发过程中,团队内部产生了激烈的冲突,但因为游戏主管信念坚定,两款游戏都顺利发行。它们最终成为了全球热门大作。

2. 着眼于长期发展

利于短期发展的决策有时挺有效,但长线思维才能赢得未来。

“别在意短期的商业决策。你应该关心对长期发展来说正确的事。”

最初,Supercell在Facebook上发行游戏,希望建立起一个跨平台游戏公司。然而,他们很快意识到跨平台策略缺乏重点,在Facebook上发行的首款游戏也没有前景。在无数的团队和董事会讨论后,Supercell决定转向手游市场,认为这是对长期发展来说最佳的选择。这是公司的一个大变革,意味着他们要抛弃所有已建立的事物。如今回头来看,Supercell将它视为公司最关键的商业决策,它也展现了Supercell敢于舍弃中庸产品和调整着眼点的力量。

3. 敢于冒险,从失败中学习

公司不会因为承担风险而失败。他们失败是因为停止冒险。

“失败不是什么有趣的事……它一点都不有趣。你在一款游戏上投入了6-12个月的时间,结果它没能成功。我们庆祝的不是失败,而是从失败中获得的经验。“

自成立之日起,Supercell砍掉了数十个产品。尽管他们不认为砍掉项目是一种“失败”,Supercell的成功正取决于开发者具备风险承受能力,并且拥有失败的自由。许多公司可能将持续的失败视为令人担忧的因素,但Supercell对此持积极态度。失败是学习的机会。

作为第一家拥有两个价值数十亿美金产品的手游公司,Supercell为手游市场的许多后来人铺平道路。

以下是完整对话内容的文字版。

主持人:欢迎来到IVP“Hyper-Growth”频道。在本系列节目中,我们将对话发展最快的公司的CEO,并讨论在高速发展状态下公司建设的细节。如果你喜欢我们的内容,欢迎在SoundCloud上关注我们,或在iTunes上订阅我们的播客。谢谢,下面敬请收听节目。

Parsa:大家好,我是IVP的投资者Parsa Saljoughian, 在本期节目中,我们有幸请到了Supercell创始人兼首席执行官,Iikka Paananen。Supercell是一家位于芬兰赫尔辛基的手游公司,凭借《部落冲突》和《皇室战争》闻名全球。数据显示,《部落冲突》自发行六年来收入超过了60亿美元,而《皇室战争》最近也突破了20亿美元,这使Supercell成为了第一家运营两个数十亿美元项目的手游发行商。Supercell旗下还有《海岛奇兵》、《卡通农场》等游戏。

IIkka:感谢邀请。

Parsa:那么节目的开头,您能否介绍一下自己的背景。您最初是如何加入游戏行业,又是怎么创立Supercell的呢?

IIkka:我们在2010年创立了Supercell,创始人总共有6个。我们每个人都在游戏行业摸爬滚打了将近十年。我们都创办过公司,卖过公司,我们中有人制作过过手游,有人曾在3A公司、PC或主机游戏公司工作,有人做过社交游戏、Facebook游戏等等。我们拥有丰富的经验,涵盖不同的平台和商业模式。Supercell是基于我们的经验建立起来的。我们之所以能走到一起,是因为我们都目睹过同样的情况,当一家游戏公司取得成功甚至幸运地发行了一款热门大作后,他们将进入快速增长阶段,不仅收入增长,公司规模也在扩张。接着随着公司发展,他们通常会引入新的管理层级和流程,然后变得相当依赖流程。我们的想法是成立一家完全不同类型的公司,领导层在决定游戏类型上不起很大作用,公司的流程和管理层也很少。在大多数公司里,管理层决定了发展愿景,但我们开始问自己,如果由游戏开发者们自己决定会如何。游戏团队自己运作项目。我们开始思考如果颠倒传统的金字塔结构会如何。这使我们以一种全新的方式思考,或许我们可以考虑一下让游戏团队独立运作,让他们掌控自己的命运,或许他们可以成为大公司内的一个个独立公司。接着有人提议,与其称他们为游戏团队,“团队”,不如把他们称为“细胞(cell)”。这也促使我们思考该怎么命名这个整体,这些细胞的集合,后来有人提出“超级细胞(Supercell)”这个名称,这就是公司创立的经过。

Parsa:这真是有趣,我想关于你们的文化以及你作为CEO的职责,还有许多有待我们挖掘的地方。但在此之前,我们想了解公司创立初期的情况。最初你们希望建立一个重新定义社交游戏的跨平台公司。你们在Facebook平台上开始发行游戏,如今是成功的手游公司。我们接触过的每一家公司似乎都经历过这样的生存抉择时期。它在Supercell发展早期就出现了,在你们发行了Facebook游戏后,做出了转投手游市场的重大决策。在我们谈及文化方面之前,我想了解当时你们进行了哪些讨论,最终决定投入这个未知的平台。当时Facebook游戏,比如Zynga和其他公司正在蓬勃发展,请告诉我们你们做出了怎样的考量,你们如何确信这个决策是正确的?

IIkka:现在回想起来……我们的首款Facebook游戏《Gunshine》刚开始确实取得了不错的成绩。但当我们开始进一步发展时,很不幸,游戏指标没能提升。我们最初的梦想是制作可以玩很多年,并被人们永远记住的游戏。我们把任天堂游戏当成奋斗目标,随后意识到《Gunshine》不可能成为这样的游戏。游戏生命周期和长期留存率都不达标,因此我们决定砍掉它。正如你提到的,我们的最初理念是创造跨平台游戏,使玩家能够在台式机、网页、手机和平板等平台上体验游戏。但我们逐渐意识到这个战略没有重点,我们担心如此一来我们无法在任何平台上提供最佳体验。或许每个平台的体验都还行,但都不够好。与此同时,我们注意到了移动平台和平板的发展苗头。我记得我们买了一些iPad,办公室里的所有人都爱上了这个平台。但在我们体验该平台游戏的过程中,我们发现大部分游戏原本不是为该平台设计的,更像是从别的平台移植过来。于是我们决定赌一把,以iPad作为目标平台,并在后来扩展到智能手机平台。但我们最初的重点是平板,我们甚至把战略称为为“平板优先 (tablets first)”。不久后我们发现称其为“移动优先(mobile first)”更有意义。我认为我们放弃跨平台战略主要是为了更专注。当然,我们的团队很小,在众多我们具备经验的平台中,平板和后来的移动平台自然是我们的首选。

Parsa:如今看来这似乎是正确的决策,但我想当时必然很艰难。团队以及董事会成员之间大概都存在分歧。作为最终决策者的董事会对此有何反应?你和你的团队对这个新平台有多大的信心?

IIkka:嗯,我不认为这是单个人决定的。在公司成立之初我们就讨论过这个问题。随着讨论的深入,我们对它越发感到兴奋。并且当时我们获得了董事会的意见。我们公司幸运地拥有超棒的董事会成员和投资者。哪怕是成立早期,当时的主要投资者是Accel,他们刚在几个月前对我们进行A轮投资。我们找到董事会,诚恳地说明了情况和我们的计划。我们想让他们给我们点意见。我认为他们非常乐意看到我们专注于某一领域。每个人都相信移动平台仍然存在大量机会。

Parsa:因此你们决定转投移动平台。这种组织结构倒置一直是你们公司的核心文化之一。你们认为小规模、独立的团队能够产生高质量的作品,这种观念在你们转向手游市场前就存在了。你能谈谈这种文化吗?

IIkka:我想我们和一些传统公司最大的区别在于,在传统公司里,领导层制定愿景和决策,最后经由CEO审批。他们假定领导团队最了解情况,能做出正确决定,具备正确的视野。Supercell成立初期,我们对这种假设产生了质疑。我们不相信这世上有人拥有水晶球,能洞悉消费者的心意。我们相信游戏开发者才能做出最佳决策,因为显然他们是最接近产品也就是游戏的人,并且他们也是最接近消费者也就是玩家的人。我们相信在这样的环境下工作,不仅创意者们能掌控自己和游戏的命运,并因此大受鼓舞,还能提高决策的质量和执行效率。

Parsa:确实如此。我认为最好通过例子说明这一点。你们是否发行过某款游戏,你可能刚开始不看好它,但团队很有信心,若你们是传统型公司,可能就会因此错过一个机会?

IIkka:哦当然了有很多这样的例子。就拿我们最新发行的两款游戏《海岛奇兵》和《皇室战争》来说,两款游戏都受到了内部的强烈反对。事实上,我记得我们专门为《海岛奇兵》开过一次会议,当时所有游戏团队的主管和我都在场,一共10个人,其中9个人想取消这个项目。唯一不想取消的是《海岛奇兵》开发团队主管,因为他们团队仍然对游戏抱有信心。我们显然处于分叉路口,眼前有两条不同的道路。一是依照十分之九的人的想法结束这个项目,然后做点别的。这可能确实是正确的商业决策……但如果我们这么做,基本上就毁掉了小规模、独立的团队文化。如果我们做这个决定,我们就无法说我们的团队是独立的。如果你真正从长远考虑,就不要在意短期的商业决策,而应该关心对长期发展来说正确的事,那就是维持我们坚信的文化。我们决定让团队做自己想做的事。我想引用杰夫·贝佐斯(Amazon创立者)的话,“敢于谏言,服从大局”(It’s important to disagree and commit),我想我们当时正是这么做的。有趣的是《皇室战争》早期也遇到了相同状况。刚开始很少有人觉得这游戏能成功。市场上许多最激进的创新都经历过这样的过程。所有后来大受欢迎的创新产品的共同之处在于,最初大多数人无法接受它们,直到它们进入更成熟的阶段之后。

Parsa:我在设想一个极端情况。你给团队和游戏主管很大的权力。假如一名游戏主管在某个游戏项目上投入了一年时间,结果并不理想。但要放弃一年多的开发成果是一件令人难以接受的事。既然你给了团队这么多控制权,你如何确保他们是坦诚的,做出对公司有利的决策呢?

IIkka:这又回归到了我们的文化上。我们的文化是独立和责任的结合。每个人都想要独立,做自己想做的事。但硬币的另一面是责任,这样才能让它保持平衡。我们如何定义责任?这些团队不是对我这个CEO负责,而是对Supercell的每个人负责。我认为正是这种强烈的责任感让团队团结在一起。我们希望每个团队都能优先考虑Supercell以及对公司最有利的事。我们很幸运拥有了这样一群员工。

Parsa:你们在7年里只推出了四款游戏。你是否担忧过自己设立的标准太高?

IIkka:事实上我们经常谈论这个问题,因为如果标准高得吓人,反而会搞砸事情,或者导致我们不敢发行游戏。可以这么说,高标准使我们变得太高傲,以至于无法发行游戏。理想情况下,我们应该忘掉所有做过的项目、取得的成功。就像我们一直所做的那样,尽量不去思考结果,甚至完全忘掉结果。试图专注于每日的工作,试图制作最好的游戏。然后发行它,让市场去检测它。是的,我们设立的标准很高,因为我们想保持小规模,我们不想成为发行数十款游戏的大公司。因此我想我们将继续保持这种高标准。

Parsa: 你刚才提到了一点,就是不去思考财务方面的结果。或许你们的投资者着眼于长期,但你仍然要对他们负责,持续推出促进公司发展的游戏。请问你遇到过哪些压力,你是如何应对的?你会选择目光长远的投资者,或者不会向你们施压的投资者吗?还是通过别的方式?

IIkka:不,正是如此。我们在融资或寻找新的合作者时,总是非常直接和诚实地说明公司的宗旨。Supercell的文化和运作方式是独特的。我们很清楚,如果对方不能接受这种文化和我们看待事物的方式,那就不应该合作。我们很幸运地找到了志同道合的投资者,并且无论经济形势好坏,他们一直坚守这种信念。

Parsa:你以前提过,项目被取消后,你们会喝香槟庆祝失败。你能谈谈这一点吗?

IIkka:噢,这是从一个由内部玩笑演变而来的传统,是在2012年初我们取消第一个项目时。这是我们的第一款手游,最终失败了。顺便说一句,终止项目不是我的决定,决定权永远在团队手中。他们决定取消该项目,那时我们还是个小公司,大约35名员工。我们在吃午饭的时候,团队主管告诉我他们要举办一个简短的反思会议,向全公司的人分享经验教训。失败不是什么有趣的事……它一点都不有趣。你在一款游戏上投入了6-12个月的时间,它就像你的孩子,你爱它,为它感到骄傲。但是它最后表现不理想,没有什么人喜欢它,你只能把它杀了。我们庆祝的不是失败本身,而是从失败中获得的经验。

Parsa:你给予团队很大的控制权,并且自称是这个行业里最没实权的CEO,这是个很有趣的定位。你为什么要这么说呢?我知道你把权力交给了团队,但你觉得这有效果吗?你是否因此受到过打击呢?你认为自己在公司里的角色是什么?你每天在花时间做什么?

IIkka:我之所以这样形容自己,因为我认为这是Supercell的理想运作方式。我不确定自己是否真的是行业里最没实权的CEO,但这是我的目标。我很乐于把决策权交给团队。团队或部门做的决策越多,我做的决策越少,这对公司来说就越好。这意味着决策者最接近游戏,接近消费者。也正因为团队自己做决策,我们的决策过程相当高效。我很担心所有决策的责任转移到我身上,我不希望这样的事发生。因此,在理想情况下,团队将作出所有决定,使我成为最没权势的CEO。这就是我这样形容自己的原因。并且这会是我的一个目标。

Parsa:我想花点时间了解你们的国际化战略。Supercell似乎一直具备核心全球竞争力。我不知道这(国际化)是否是赫尔辛基或整个芬兰企业的特点,但我很好奇,你能为其他想在国际市场开展业务的人提供哪些建议?有哪些短期和长期战略?

IIkka:事实上这种思维是在芬兰这片土地上自然诞生的。我们的国家非常小,周边的国家也不大。这些市场实在太小,我们没得选择。所以唯一可行的策略就是一开始就采取国际化战略。这是我们这些小国公司自然的选择,也演变成了我们的优势。几乎每家初创公司都是这种情况。事实上我认为,如果您来自美国或中国这样的大市场,而您的本地市场很大,那么应该先关注国内市场,然后再考虑国际市场。

Parsa:你们成功打入了一些被西方游戏公司和IP商视为“墓地市场”(里面的出不来,外面的进不去的市场,游戏邦注)的国家,比如日本、韩国以及你提到的中国。你有什么经验可以分享?这不是件容易的事,但我认为Supercell是一个很好的研究案例。

IIkka:我认为最重要的一条建议是,尽管这些市场与我们熟悉的市场差异很大,提供本地化服务迎合当地消费者固然很重要,但要恰到好处,不要为了与当地公司竞争把本地化服务做过了头。很早之前就有人告诉我,不要改变你的产品或游戏的灵魂。你的游戏应该是它自己的样子。为它感到骄傲,不要把它看作是缺陷和弱点,把它看作力量的源泉。这会使它最终显得与众不同。我们对中、日、韩等东方市场的策略是忠于游戏的精髓,对与之相关的一切进行本地化。真正照顾好每一个细节,无论它多渺小。因此我们花了很多精力确保文本翻译足够地道,营销方式为当地所接受。当我们在市场上推广游戏时,保持Supercell的品牌特点很重要,同时我们希望向消费者展示品牌的地方特色。显然,我们使用当地语言提供出色的客户服务以及任何本地化涉及到的事。但也许我们的做法与众不同之处在于,我们仍然为游戏的来源感到骄傲,它是与众不同的,但我们把这当成一种优势而不是劣势。

Parsa:你们做到了这一切,同时还把公司规模控制在250个人,真是太了不起了。许多游戏公司的员工数量都膨胀到了一两千人。那么,如果你现在创办一家游戏公司,相比于2011年你们转投手游市场的时候,如今的用户获取成本比从前任何时候都高,分销更为艰难。你能为如今的创业者提供什么建议?或者说如果今天让你重新创建Supercell,你会怎么做?

IIkka:我会做几件事。首先,我会组建最优秀的团队,正如Supercell所做的。第二,我会制作一些与众不同的东西,市场上不存在的产品。别看当前的排行榜,别拘泥于过去。不要去想已经成功的事物,超前思考,大胆地冒险,做一些前人没做过的东西。

Parsa:管理Supercell这样高速发展的公司,最困难的是什么?你们经历过多个高速发展阶段,期间最困难的是什么?

IIkka:我认为最难的事是忠于核心价值观。对我们来说,最重要的价值观之一就是保持小规模,保持独立和责任并重的文化。这是一种与众不同的工作方式。并且我们还要在高速增长阶段保持专注,也就是100%专注于游戏,我们首先是游戏公司,游戏是我们的DNA。因此我们必须克制自己,拒绝突然涌现的机会诱惑,专注于为玩家创造最棒的游戏体验。

Parsa:今天新闻报道了很多关于软银(Softbank)的消息。几年前,软银是你们的投资者之一,如今是腾讯。你能谈谈与这两家公司合作的情况,以及你们之前的关系吗?

IIkka:与两家公司的合作体验很类似。两家合作公司的共同之处在于,他们真正信任自己投资的人。我们最开始与他们合作,正是因为他们认同我们的愿景,更重要的是,认同我们的文化。他们在交易前就公开表示,对我们来说最重要的是保持独立性。软银、腾讯都是如此。他们理解我们文化的价值,理解独立对我们来说的重要性。当然,腾讯很棒的一点是他们总是非常乐意为我们提供建议和帮助。

Parsa:你认为Supercell在未来5-10年间会发展到什么程度?你对公司更大的规划是什么?

IIkka:我们创建Supercell的初衷是希望它汇聚最好的游戏团队、最优秀的人才,创造最棒的游戏。我心中所想的是如何实现这个目标,如何让Supercell的团队变得更好,如何为他们创造更好的环境,使他们专注于创造最好的游戏?这是我所关注的。并且我相信,如果全公司一起努力,并且我们能一直保持幸运,我们变有机会实现终极目标,即创造出能够让人们年复一年玩耍的游戏。这些游戏会被人们永远记住,成为游戏历史的一部分,甚至是更广义的流行文化历史的一部分。当然,我们离这个目标还很远,但这是我的梦想。正如我所说的,我们一直以来仰望的目标是任天堂。我玩着他们的游戏长大。我记得小时候打《超级马里奥》,而数十年后,上个星期我和我儿子一起玩《马里奥赛车》。如果Supercell也能发行这样的游戏该多棒啊。

Parsa:您组建起了经久不衰的品牌和公司,真的非常了不起。祝愿你们在今后的发展中一切顺利,蒸蒸日上。非常感谢您今天参加我们的节目,我们下次再见。

IIkka:谢谢你Parsa,我很开心来到这里。

主持人:感谢您收听IVP的“Hyper-Growth”播客。您可以登陆IVP.com了解更多关于我们的信息,或者在推特上@IVP参与话题。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

Welcome to IVP’s Hypergrowth Podcast. In this series, IVP investors talk with CEOs of the fastest growing companies and discuss the ins and outs of company building in the hypergrowth environment.

In our first episode, IVP investor, Parsa Saljoughian, talks with Supercell Founder and CEO, Ilkka Paananen, about the company’s success, his role as CEO, the unique decentralized structure, and the strong international strategy.

Ilkka Paananen, Founder and CEO of mobile gaming company Supercell, got into gaming by accident. Foregoing a career in management consulting, the path taken by many of his classmates, Ilkka opted instead for a low-paying gig at a game development company. The team, made up entirely of game developers and creators, named Ilkka CEO so they could focus on building games. Within a few years, Ilkka successfully sold the company to video game publisher, Digital Chocolate, where he worked for six years. Shortly thereafter, Ilkka co-founded Helsinki-based gaming company Supercell, which today reaches 100 million people per day and is valued at over $10 billion.

The Supercell founding team had a breadth of game development experience across a variety of platforms and business models. Supercell is known for its hit titles Clash of Clans, which has grossed over $6 billion in six years, and Clash Royale, which has grossed over $2 billion. The company’s success partly stems from its decentralized organizational structure that gives game teams (“cells”) themselves the power, removing traditional bureaucracy that often hampers creativity.

In this conversation, Parsa and Ilkka discuss some of the key learnings from scaling Supercell through hyper-growth. The episode also includes Ilkka’s predictions for Supercell in 5-10 years and advice for game developers in today’s climate.

1. GET BIG BY THINKING SMALL.

Less management involvement and fewer layers of process allows teams to operate with greater speed and efficiency.

“What if we turned the traditional organizational pyramid upside down?”
Ilkka and his founding team proactively implemented a policy of zero bureaucracy. Why? The group learned from its breadth of experience in gaming that when gaming companies hit a rapid growth phase, they often explode in size and implement heavy process and procedure, slowing the company down. Thus, it was critical to reinforce a culture that optimized for speed and where game teams maintained their independence. Ilkka and his team believe that decision-making power should be given to the game teams as they are closest to the product and the customer. Not only is it more motivating for creative people to work in this environment, but this structure also results in better decisions and quicker execution. Both Boom Beach and Clash Royale faced intense internal conflict but were launched because of conviction from the game leads. Both games ultimately became world-class titles.

2. FOCUS ON THE LONG-TERM.

Decisions that favor the short term sometimes work but long-term thinking always wins.

“You shouldn’t care about the short-term business decisions. You should care about what is right for the long term.”

Initially, Supercell launched on Facebook with a vision around building a cross-platform games company. However, it quickly became clear that the cross-platform strategy lacked focus and the company’s initial title on Facebook wouldn’t scale. After numerous team and board discussions, Supercell decided to pivot to mobile as it was the best decision for the long-term. This was a major upheaval for the company as it required them to throw everything they had built away. In hindsight, Supercell views this as the company’s most crucial business decision and it shows the power of having the courage to shut down mediocre products and streamlining focus.

3. TAKE RISKS AND LEARN FROM FAILURE.

Companies do not fail because they take risks. They fail because they stop taking risks.

“Failing isn’t fun… it just isn’t fun. You dedicate 6 to 12 months to a game and it turns out not to work. We don’t celebrate the failure, rather the learnings that come from those failures.”

Since founding, Supercell has killed dozens of titles. While killing titles is a “failure” for the company, Supercell’s success depends on its developers’ tolerance for risk and freedom to fail. Many companies may look at continued failure as a cause for concern, but Supercell views this as a positive. These moments are learning opportunities.

As the first mobile gaming company with two multi-billion-dollar franchises, Supercell has paved the way for many in the mobile gaming industry.

Read more from Parsa Saljoughian about this interview.

The full transcript is below.

Subscribe in your favorite podcast client via iTunes or SoundCloud.

TRANSCRIPT
Narrator: Welcome to IVP’s Hyper-Growth Podcast. In this series, we talk with CEOs of the fastest-growing companies and discuss the ins-and-outs of company building in the hyper-growth environment. If you like what you hear, consider following us on SoundCloud or subscribing to our podcast on iTunes. Thanks, and enjoy the show.

Parsa: Hi everyone, I’m Parsa Saljoughian, an Investor at IVP and in this podcast, we’re lucky to have with us Founder and CEO of Supercell, Ilkka Paananen. Supercell is a mobile gaming company based in Helsinki, Finland and is known for its hit titles Clash of Clans and Clash Royale. According to data, Clash of Clans has grossed over six billion dollars in six years since launch and Clash Royale recently surpassed two billion dollars, making Supercell the first mobile publisher to operate two multi-billion-dollar franchises. Supercell also has two other titles, Boom Beach and Hay Day, and recently announced plans to launch its fifth title, Brawl Stars. The company was founded in 2011, has over 250 employees around the world, and is majority owned by Tencent and is now worth over 10 billion dollars. In this episode, I discuss with Ilkka the company’s founding story, the crucial early pivot Supercell to mobile, the company’s very unique decentralized structure and Ilkka’s role as CEO, and also the strong international strategy that has allowed Supercell to become a truly global games company reaching over 100 million people every day. So, with that thanks for joining us today Ilkka.

Ilkka: Thanks for having me.

Parsa: So to set the stage, it would be helpful to get a bit of your background. How did you first get into gaming initially and what was that founding story of Supercell?

Ilkka: Well we founded Supercell back in 2010 and there were six of us co-founders. Each of us had been in games for 10 years at that point like give or take. We had founded companies, sold companies, we had been in mobile games and some of us had been in AAA, PC and console games, and some had been in social games, games for Facebook and so forth. We had a breadth of experience from different types of platforms and business models. Supercell was founded based on everything we had learned from the previous companies. The one thing that united us was that we had all seen this phenomenon before where a games company gets successful and if it’s lucky enough to release a hit game, that kicks off this very quick and rapid growth phase, not only in terms of revenue but also in terms of headcount. Then what usually happens is as you grow, companies introduce new layers of management and process and they become quite process-driven. Our idea was that what if you found a totally different type of company, one where leadership wouldn’t really play much of a role in deciding what type of games to do and there would be very little process and very little layers of management. In most companies the vision is held by the leadership team but we started to ask ourselves what would happen if the vision was held by the game developers themselves. The game teams would be the ones running the show. We started to think what would happen if you would turn the traditional organizational pyramid upside down. Then that led to us thinking that this is such a new way of thinking that maybe we should actually think about these individual game teams, who would all control of their own destiny, maybe they could be their own independent companies within the greater company. And then somebody suggested that maybe instead of calling these game teams, “teams”, what if we called them “cells”. Then that led to the question of what we should call the entity, these collections of cells, and then somebody suggested “Supercell” and that’s how the company got started.

Parsa: Super interesting and I think there’s a lot to unpack there just around your culture and your role as CEO. But even before we get there I want to talk about the really early days of the company. You originally launched this business with a vision around building a cross-platform company redefining social games. You launched on Facebook but you are a very successful mobile gaming company. Every company that we meet with seems to go through this period of a moral existential crisis. Maybe it happened early on for Supercell after you launched this game on Facebook because you decided to kill the title and then make this major pivot to mobile. Before we get into the cultural aspects I’d love to take a step back and go back in time to understand some of the discussions you had internally around this decision to kill this title and make a major pivot to a new platform which at the time was fairly unproven for gaming. Facebook games with Zynga and other companies was a platform that was thriving, so help me understand the discussions you had early on and what gave you the conviction to make this major switch to new platform?

Ilkka: Well if I think about those times… initially, we actually saw quite promising metrics on our first game, Gunshine. As we started to scale the game, unfortunately, the metrics didn’t scale. One of our dreams in the very beginning was to create games that people would play for years and years, and games that would be remembered forever. From very early on we looked up to companies like Nintendo and at some point, it was very clear to us Gunshine was not going to be that game. The longevity and long-term retention wasn’t there when you looked at the metrics and so we decided to kill it. Our original idea as you mentioned was to create these cross-platform game services so you could access the game world from a variety of devices, from desktop, web, mobile, and tablet and so on. But then we started to think that this approach doesn’t have focus and we were worried that you couldn’t create the best possible experience on any one of these platforms. Maybe you could create games that were okay on each of those platforms but wouldn’t be great on any of them. And at the same time, we started to see the first signs of mobile and tablets especially. I remember that we decided to get some iPads to the office and we fell in love with the platform. But the more we played the games on the platform it felt to us that most of the games weren’t really designed to that platform very early on. They felt a little bit like ports from other platforms. Then the company decided to make this bet that we started to call iPads the ultimate gaming platform and then, later on, extended the definition to cover smartphones as well. But our initial focus was tablets and we even called our strategy “tablets first”. Very quickly we figured out it makes sense to call it “mobile first”. I would say that the reason we decided to abandon the cross-platform strategy was mostly related to being more focused. We, of course, had a small team. And then out of all the platforms that we had experience with, it just felt that tablets and then later, mobile would be a natural choice.

Parsa: It seems like the right decision in hindsight but I’m sure it was tough at the time. You probably had disagreements among the team but also the board. As I think about our audience here, a lot of strategic decisions get made early on. What was the reaction from the board, who ultimately made the decision, and how much power did you have with the team in making that conviction bet to move to a new platform?

Ilkka: Well, I don’t think there was any single person who made the decision. We discussed when we first started with the team in Helsinki. The more we talked about it, the more excited we got about it. And at the time I got some early feedback from our board members. And as a company, I feel like we’ve been so lucky that we’ve had really great board members and great investors. That’s true also about the early days. So back then the lead investor was Accel and it wasn’t that many months ago that they had invested in us in the Series A round. We went to the board and we were really honest about the situation. We told them what the situation was and what our proposal was. We wanted to get their feedback on it. I think they really loved the idea of getting more focused. Everybody shared the conviction that there was still so much opportunity on mobile.

Parsa: And so you made the shift to mobile. One of the core tenets of your company has always been this upside-down culture. You’ve had a belief that having small and independent teams is what leads to the highest quality work and that has stood even before you made this move to mobile. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Ilkka: I think the biggest difference between us and some of the more traditionally run companies is that in a traditional company, the vision and ultimately all of the decisions are made by the leadership, and ultimately by the CEO. And the assumption is that the leadership team and the leaders are the ones who know the best, they make the right calls, and they have the right vision. From the very early days of Supercell, we questioned these assumptions. We just don’t believe that anyone has a crystal ball in this world. It’s just impossible to know what the consumers want. We believe the best decisions are made by the game developers themselves because obviously those are the people who are closest to the product, which is games, and they’re also closest to the consumer which is the players of those games. We just believe that not only is it more motivating for the best creative people to work in this type of environment, where they are in total control of their own destiny and their games destiny, but it also results actually in a better decisions and much quicker execution.

Parsa: Sure. I think this is best brought to life with examples. Do you have any examples of games that you launched that maybe you didn’t believe in early on and the team did and you if you had that flip structure where you were in charge you may have missed an opportunity?

Ilkka: Oh sure there are many examples. It’s actually easy to just begin by stating that the two most recent games that we’ve released, Boom Beach, which was our game #3 and then Class Royale, which was our game #4, both of those two games faced very strong internal opposition. In fact, I think I remember a meeting about the Boom Beach game where I think we had all the leaders of the game teams plus myself in a room talking about the game. We had 10 people in the room and out of those 10 people, nine wanted to kill that game. The only guy who didn’t want to kill that game was the lead of Boom Beach because they still believed in the game. I remember we had this discussion at the time within that group that clearly we are at the crossroads. There are two different paths we can take. The first path is one that nine out of 10 of us think it’s a right one which is to kill this game and then do something else. And that might actually be the right business decision… but if we now do that decision, then at the same time we basically kill our culture of small and independent teams. We couldn’t possibly say that our teams are independent if we make this call. If you truly think long term, you shouldn’t care about the short term business decision, you should care about what is right for the long term and that is to sustain the culture that we so much believe in. We decided the team can do what they want. I like to quote Jeff Bezos that it is important to “disagree and commit” and I guess we did exactly that at that time. And you know the funny thing is that the exact same thing happened in the case of Clash Royale in the early days. There were very few people in the very early days of a game in the company who believed in that game. That seems to be true about a lot of the most radical innovations that happen in the market. What seems to be common about all of these very innovative products that later on become hits, is that most people don’t get them or early on, but only later on when they get to a more mature stage.

Parsa: I’m trying to think of the extremes here. Let’s say that you give a lot of power to the teams themselves and the game leads. Let’s say you spend a year working on a title and it’s not quite right, but you’ve spent a year of your time as a game lead on a title. It seems impossible to me to admit that it’s the right decision to kill a title after a year of development… blood, sweat and tears. So how do you actually get the teams to stay honest given you’ve given them so much control and so much power to ultimately make the right decision that’s best for the company?

Ilkka: Again it comes back to our culture. Our culture is a combination of independence and responsibility. Independence is the fun thing to talk about. Everybody wants to do their own thing. But responsibility is the other side of the same coin and that’s what keeps it in balance. How we define responsibility is that these teams aren’t responsible for me as CEO, but they are responsible for everybody at Supercell. And I think of this very strong sense of responsibility that keeps the team together. We want to hire people and put together teams that think Supercell first and what’s best for the company. We are so lucky to have all these amazing people who do exactly that.

Parsa: So, you’ve launched four titles in seven years. Do you ever worry that you have created too high of a bar where you might have a pretty decent title that you could launch, that could still be good for the company from a financial standpoint and you could be a game that’ll be around for many years? Do you ever worry that the bar you’ve created is too high internally? Is that something you get concerned about?

Ilkka: We actually talk about it quite a bit because one way that we could screw this up is that the bar is so high that it somehow paralyzes us, or it makes us afraid to release titles. One way to describe it would also be that makes us arrogant, too arrogant to release a title. The conclusion that you come to, is that in an ideal world, we should forget all of the previous titles we’ve done and all the previous success. Just work as we have always worked and try to not think about the results and totally let go of the outcome. Just trying to focus on your everyday work, try to build the best possible game you can. Then ship it and then you see what the results look like in the beta test markets. Yes, the bar is high because we want to keep the company small and we don’t want to become this company who releases tens of games. So from that point of view, I’m sure our bar will keep on being very high.

Parsa: And you said one thing there which was to remove yourself from the financial outcomes. You have investors and maybe they are long-term, but you still have investors and your responsibility to continue to launch titles that helps the company grow over time. Help me understand a little bit about the tension that you might have there and how you manage that. Is it picking investors who have a long- term view or investors that may not put pressure on you or is it something else?

Ilkka: No, I think it is exactly that. So, I think in every single case where we’ve raised money or have picked up a new partner, we’ve been very direct and honest what the company is about. Supercell is about our very unique culture and our very unique way of operating. We’ve been very clear all the time that if you don’t buy into this culture and the way we think about things then you shouldn’t be part of it. We’ve been very lucky to find investors who have believed in this, and they’ve also believed not only in the good times but also in the harder times.

Parsa: And you have mentioned in the past is that when you do kill titles, you do celebrate failure with champagne. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ilkka: Well, this whole tradition started as an internal joke when we killed our first title in early 2012. It was our first mobile title that we ended up killing. By the way, when we kill titles, it is not me who makes that call. It’s always the team’s decision. We had this game team who had decided to kill their game. Back then we were a really small company, thirty-five people or so. And then we were having lunch and the lead of a team told me that they’re going to organize a quick postmortem session to share all the learnings about this killed title to everybody at the company. Of course, failing isn’t fun, it…it just isn’t fun. You use maybe six to twelve months to a game and it’s your baby and you love it and you’re very proud of it. But then it turns out that doesn’t work out and not that many consumers love it and you have to kill it. We aren’t really celebrating the failure itself. What we want to celebrate are all of those learnings that come from those most failures.

Parsa: And you’ve noted this here and there. You’ve given up a lot of control to the rest of the team and you’ve actually quoted yourself as being the industry’s least powerful CEO, which is to me, really interesting positioning. Why do you say that? I know you’re giving power to the rest of the team, but have you found that to be helpful or has it hurt you in any way? What do you see as your role at the company in terms of your day to day and what you spend your time on?

Ilkka: I use that phrase to describe how I think ideally how Supercell should work. And I’m not sure if I, if I’m yet the industry’s least powerful CEO, but that certainly is the goal. What I mean by that is that I’m happiest when our game teams make most of the decisions. So, the more decisions the teams or the cells make, and the less I make, the better it is for the company. That means that the decisions are made closest to the game, closest to the consumer, and we also make these very fast decisions because the teams are making them on their own. So, I would be afraid that if it’s me who was making these calls, then all of a sudden the responsibility of those decisions shifts from the team to myself. And I don’t want that to happen. So, in an ideal world, teams would make all the decisions and that would then, in turn, make me the least powerful CEO. That’s why I use this phrase. And that’s, that certainly is a goal of mine.

Parsa: I want to just spend a bit of time talking about your international strategy. It seems like Supercell has always had a core competency around international. I don’t know if it’s a Helsinki or Finland thing, but I’m curious what lessons do you have for other founders that are thinking about launching internationally? What lessons you have around that being a strategy in the near-term versus the long- term?

Ilkka: Actually that type of thinking, it comes very naturally when you come from Helsinki and Finland. We are a very small country. There really isn’t such an option to focus on Finland or in the neighboring countries. These markets are simply too small so the only viable strategy actually is to go global from day one. That is something that is an advantage for companies that come from these smaller countries because naturally, you think global from day one. That has always been the case, and that’s probably the case in almost every single startup that comes from this place of the world. I actually understand that if you come from a big market like the US or China where your local market is so big that makes sense to first focus on that and then think about international later on.

Parsa: You were successful launching into a couple markets that are known as “The Great Graveyard for Western gaming companies” and IP in general, and that’s Japan and Korea, and you mentioned China. What are some lessons that you can share around your successful launch into those markets? It’s not easy to do but I think Supercell is regarded as the case study of how to do it very well.

Ilkka: I think that one of the best pieces of advice that we’ve ever gotten about expanding to those markets, is that while of course all of these markets are very, very different to what we are used to, and it is important to provide local service due to a lot of local consumers, you shouldn’t try to compete with the local companies by trying to be more local than they are. Somebody told me very early on to never change the soul of your product or your game. Your game is what it is. Be proud of it and instead of thinking about it as a disadvantage or weakness, think about it as a source of strength. That is what ultimately makes it different. I think our approach in these Eastern markets like China, Korea, Japan has been to stay true to what the game is about in its heart and soul, but then localize everything around it. Really take care of every single detail no matter how small. So we put a lot of effort in making sure the text is localized, the marketing feels local. While it is important to maintain the Supercell brand when we market our games, we want to provide the local consumers a local flavor of that brand. Obviously, we provide great customer service in their local language and do all of these things that are local. But maybe the thing that we had done differently that we are still very proud of where they come from, is that the game is different and we try to think about that as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

Parsa: It’s so impressive to be able to do all this and still have a company that’s only two-hundred-fifty employees. There are a lot of other companies out there that have been in the gaming space that have blown up to a thousand, two thousand plus employees. But it’s incredibly impressive. So, if you were to start a gaming company today versus 2011 when you started it at the beginning of the shift to mobile… acquisition costs are much higher than they’ve ever been, distribution is much tougher. What advice would you have to new gaming developers that are starting a company? Or another way to ask it is if you were to build a Supercell from scratch today what would you do?

Ilkka: A few things. One, I would try to put together the best possible team as we did with Supercell. Two, I would try to build something that is very different, something that doesn’t exist in the market. So, do not to look in the current charts or in the rearview mirror. Don’t think about what has worked before, rather try to think ahead and just be bold and take risks and build something that no one has built before.

Parsa: What’s been the hardest thing about managing Supercell through hyper-growth? You went through a number of phases of hyper-growth, but what has been the hardest thing about just managing that growth?

Ilkka: I think the hardest thing about managing that growth has been keeping and staying true to your core values. For us, one of those most important values was to try to keep the company small as possible and to keep the culture of independence and responsibility. That’s a very different way of working. And then also trying to stay focused during that hyper-growth phase. In our case, it meant that we had to be 100% focused on games because we are a games company first and foremost and games is our DNA. So rather than getting too excited about all the other opportunities that all of a sudden came around, we had to be focused on trying to create the best possible game experience for our players.

Parsa: We hear a lot about Softbank in the news today. Softbank was one of your investors a number of years ago and now Tencent. Could you just talk about how it’s been to work with both of those firms and your relationship with them?

Ilkka: Well, it’s been great like in both cases. What’s common about both of these companies as partners is that they really trust the people that they invest into. In both of those cases, why we took them on board in the first place was that they really believed in our vision and more than anything they believed in the culture. They were open before the deal that the most important thing for us in the deal was to remain independent. That was very true with SoftBank and it has been very true with Tencent as well. They understand the value of our culture and how important it is for us to feel that we are completely independent. And at the same time, of course, what has been great about Tencent is that if we ever need advice or a second opinion or something or help on anything, they are always very eager to give it.

Parsa: Where do you see Supercell in in five to 10 years and what are your broader goals for the company?

Ilkka: If you think about why we founded Supercell in the first place, one way to describe that was that we wanted Supercell to be the best place for the best game teams and the best people to build the best games. I think about how we get to that goal and how we get even better teams inside of Supercell. How do we make the environment even better for them so that they can focus on creating the best possible games? And that is really what I’m personally focused on. And I believe that if we manage to do that as a company and obviously if we get lucky as we have been so far, we have a chance to get to our ultimate goal which is to create games that people would play for years and years and years. Essentially games that would be remembered forever and that would become part of the history of games and maybe even the history of pop culture in a broader sense. And of course, it’s still a very long way to get there, but that’s what I dream of. As I said, the company that I’ve always looked up to is Nintendo. I grew up playing their games. I remember when I was a very young kid I was playing Super Mario and last week I was playing Mario Kart with my kids, decades later. Wouldn’t it be cool if we from Supercell could release those types of games where somebody was playing a form of Clash of Clans for example, in ten years time.

Parsa: It’s been impressive the longevity of these titles and the brand that you built and the amazing company that you’ve put together. We wish you the best as you continue to grow this business. Thank you so much for joining us today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show and we’ll talk to you soon.

Ilkka: Thank you Parsa, I enjoyed it.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to IVP’s Hyper-Growth Podcast. You can learn more about us on IVP.com or join the conversation on Twitter by tweeting @IVP. (source:IVP

 


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